Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Traditional Challah Bread
9 cups unbleached white flour
2 1/2 cups warm water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dry yeast
2 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter OR olive oil
1 tablespoon egg whisked with 1 water
In a large bowl, mix the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Allow to proof, watching for the yeast to foam and bubble on top of the water.
Whisk the 4 eggs and the butter or oil into the water mixture.
Add the flour to the liquid 1 cup at a time, whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps from forming.
When the dough becomes to thick for whisking, switch to mixing with a long spoon until dough can be turned out for kneading.
Lightly flour your counter top or bread board and knead dough thoroughly, adding small amounts of flour as needed to prevent sticking, until the dough is smooth
and elastic, springing back when you press a divot into it with your finger.
Lightly oil a large bowl and roll the dough to oil all surfaces. Cover with a slightly damp towel and set aside to rise until double, usually about two hours.
Knead dough to remove large air bubbles, then separate into two equal portions. Each portion will form 1 full loaf.
For each loaf: separate dough into 5 equal portions. Set 1 portion aside to become a narrow top braid. Roll the remaining 4 portions with your hands on the counter top, gently moving your hands apart to elongate the dough into strands about 20 inches long.
Lay all 4 strands next to each other in front of you. Starting with the strand on the right, lay it over the next strand, under the second, and over the third. Repeat this process, always starting on the right, until the strands are completely braided. Tuck the ends under and pinch to prevent unraveling.
Lay the loaf on a lightly oiled baking sheet, pressing it together to shorten it a bit while doing so. The reason for this is so that during rising, the dough will not pull apart or break. You must give it room to expand without splitting.
Now, separate the 5th portion of dough into 3 strands, rolling them out the same way but slightly longer than the 4 main strands. Working right over center, then left over center, form a continuous 3 stranded braid.
Lay the narrow braid on top of the main loaf, tucking the ends under the end of the main loaf to hold it in place.
Repeat with the dough set aside for the second loaf.
Rise loaves at least 30 minutes, until doubled in size.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake loaves for 25 minutes.
Brush heavily with prepared egg wash. Increase temperature to 375 degrees and bake another 20 minutes, brushing with egg twice more during baking.
Remove from baking sheet and place on a towel, covered with a towel to cool.
Traditions behind Challah Bread...
Challah (pronounced "haw-llah"), is a Jewish Sabbath/holiday bread. It comes in many shapes and sizes, braids being the most traditional. The braids may be made of three, four, or six strands, and may be straight or formed into rounds. Each shape is a symbol, bringing meaning to the service of the bread.
One common service is to form two four-stranded braided loaves, which symbolize Israel's 400 years in captivity, and the two loaves representing the two stone tablets on which God gave the Law. Messianic Believers might lzy narrow three-stranded braids on top of the main loaves, symbolizing the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout that trying time. The loaves are brushed heavily with egg indicating God's lavish affection, as eggs were a delicacy in those times. Sprinkled over the loaves is a dusting of sesame seeds, a reminder of the manna provided daily during Israel's wandering in the desert. The two loaves are placed on the table under a white napkin or cloth, completing the picture of the manna being gathered in twice the ordinary daily ration the day before the Sabbath, as gathering would have been prohibited on the Sabbath day. The napkin represents the dew that collected on the manna each morning.
Of course, this is only one example of the Challah symbolism. For Rosh Hashanna, the loaves are typically baked into rounds to symbolize continuity. For Yom Kippur, ladder shapes are formed to signify how we should ascend to new heights, and for Shavuot (the Festival of the First Fruits) two plain loaves are served side by side as a remembrance of the Law being delivered on two stone tablets.
There are many different recipes for Challah, some more simple and others incorporating raisins and honey during times of celebration to symbolize joy, happiness, znd abundance. This recipe is of the simple variety, but the flavor is rich and the finished loaf is a beautiful addition to any table.
The dough is very lenient, and will sit through up to eight hours of a first rising without punching down if you happen to have to walk away from it for a time. Simply re-knead until the dough springs back, and proceed as usual.